To close out this three-part series of the most important investments you’ll ever make when riding, including your tall boots and saddle purchases, the last but certainly not least item is your helmet.
TBI’s and Horseback Riding
Over the last 10 years, there has been a rapidly increasingly focus on various concussions and sports-related brain injuries. Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI’s, have been shown to be most prevalent among those that participate in horseback riding. In fact, almost half of the documented cases of TBI among adults were related to horseback riding at over 45%; while children and adolescents who rode were the third-leading number of TBI patients! Wearing a helmet isn’t just meant to be a fashion statement – it can be a matter of potentially saving your life.
Every time my friends and I get together and the conversation of “who has the craziest injury story,” comes up, I always manage to win – or lose, depending on who you ask.
When I was a teenager, I was schooling a horse at a horse show during somewhat slippery conditions. My helmet was on and tack securely fastened, however no one could ever prepare for the “what-if” factor. Unfortunately, during the take-off at a jump, my horse completely lost its footing in the mud, falling forward with the impulsion of a jump behind it. Long story short, and many broken bones later, the horse had flipped over, and I crashed into the ground, experiencing what’s known as a rotational fall. I suffered a massive concussion, including bouts of blacking out, not knowing where I was, excruciating migraines, and my mood was constantly bombarded with changes of irritability, depression, and anxiety. Thankfully, my helmet was properly fit and ultimately, prevented me from severing my spinal cord, breaking my neck, or worse.
The most famous event that inspired riders around the world to advocate the importance of helmet awareness was the accident of Team USA Olympic rider, Courtney King-Dye. In 2010, King-Dye suffered a devastating injury after a young horse had slipped and fallen, resulting in over a month-long coma and her professional riding career coming to a tragic end. While her cognitive abilities recovered, she now spends most of her time teaching rather than riding, advocating the importance of wearing a helmet when handling horses – on the ground or in the saddle.
As I have gotten older, and less “bouncy” when I hit the ground, helmets have kept me safe and provided an overall sense of protection and comfort when dealing with hot youngsters, bad distances, and any time I get in the irons. In fact, helmet awareness and safety has become such an important topic throughout the equestrian community, the annual Helmet Awareness Day event hosted by Riders4Helmets springs up all throughout various tack stores, to further educate and ensure proper fitting of helmets to all riders.
Helmets developed today involve a variety of technologies in addition to various styles, finishes (matte, gloss, leather-look, Alcantara/faux suede, or even Swarovski-encrusted!), and brands. Regardless of what your budget is or purpose for your helmet (if it’s for schooling, shows, etc.), make sure you familiarize yourself with the different types of helmet safety certifications, and which one is required for your showing organization.
ASTM/SEI: The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is an organization that writes safety standards for various protective products, whose standards can be adopted by various organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Once those standards are in place, the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) follows the quality control of these standards, ensuring manufactureres are follwing them by doing their own in-house testing or other third-party options. Testing audits are usually performed on an annual basis. Helmets are tested through rigorously, analyzing shock wave, puncture, harness, and visor resiliency through a variety of scenarios. After freezing the helmet to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and submerging in water overnight, if the helmet still transfers no more than 300g (“G”-forces) and the strap is still effective, the helmet earns ASTM/SEI approval. Currently, ASTM F1163-15 is the equestrian riding helmet standard for the USA, Canada, and Mexico.
PAS015: Developed by the British Standards Institude (BSI), this organization is similar to the SEI, set up to test the safety and quality control of riding helmets. The certification standards for PAS015 includes crush resistance and protection against injury when landing on an edged surface as well as a stability test to limit excessive movement during wearing or in the event of a fall.
Kitemark: The Kitemark is another BSI certification, most notably found on Charles Owen and KEP helmets. British Standards Institute tests the helmets and the Kitemark includes batch testing and access to the manufacturer’s factory and offices.
VG1: This is a newer European standard for riding helmets that in addition to impact, retention, and visor tests, these standards demand that helmets withstand penetration and crushing. Many European-manufactured helmets, including KEP, Charles Owen, GPA, and Uvex offer this certification.
MIPS: Multi-directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, which is a new, advanced technology inside the helmet designed to reduce rotational forces transmitted to the brain that can result from certain impacts. This technology allows the head to move 10-15 mm in all directions, reducing the rotational motion to the brain. Currently, MIPS is offered in Trauma Void and certain Charles Owen helmets.
HOT TIP: It’s important to note that helmet manufacturers recommend that helmets be replaced every five years. However, there is a big loophole to that rule: Helmets are only designed to protect your head for one impact – regardless of recently you might have purchased it. This includes any falls off your tack locker shelf, so make sure you properly store your helmet when it isn’t in use. In other words, that dusty Titium helmet you’ve been using since 2003 should be retired.
Big Dee’s inventory of riding helmets from exclusive, popular brands like Charles Owen, One K, GPA, Trauma Void, KASK, Uvex, KEP, Troxel, IRH, Ovation, and Tipperary meet or exceed safety standards required for riding and showing. Our certified helmet fitting experts are here to help find the perfect helmet, the perfect fit, and the perfect price, in addition to answering any questions you have to make sure your helmet is worn correctly every time!
It can be overwhelming to decide which helmet is right for you, with so many options on exteriors, dial-fit vs. single size, and price points available. Currently, a smooth, matte finish or “Alcantara” fabric (a faux micro-suede) are the most popular finishes due to their ease of cleaning and finished look. Schooling riders have the option of choosing fun patterns, colors, and designs, like the Troxel FTX line, inspired by World-Champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor. For showing helmets, black and navy are the most traditional colors, but brown and gray have become increasingly popular finishes for the dressage and jumper rings.
Dial-fit helmets are wonderful options for young riders or those that offer lesson programs with their ability to adjust to a wide audience and ensure a proper fit. Regardless of which helmet you choose, make sure that you wear your hair in a similar fashion as you plan to ride (in a bun or ponytail or tucked underneath your helmet) to allow a consistent fit. Not all helmets fit the same, due to different head shapes (round or oval), hair thickness, and head size, so I recommend trying on several helmets until you have the “Goldilocks” fit that’s “just right.” Certain manufacturers like Ovation and KASK are known for their oval shape, while GPA and Trauma Void and KEP fit heads with a rounder profile. Some manufacturers, like One K and Charles Owen, offer round, oval, and long oval shape options to cater to a wider variety of riders.
Tips for a Perfect Fit
Fitting your helmet is just as important as wearing one. In the event of a fall, your helmet is the only thing protecting your skull and brain, and ill-fitting equipment can potentially cause greater damage. NEVER guess your helmet size or buy a helmet that is “roomy” for a child rider. Helmets are not designed like shoes where they can be grown into – and there are great options available like Dial-Fit helmets that can offer longevity for growing riders.
Helmets should sit level on your head with even pressure throughout and an almost “suction-like” fit. Because different manufacturers have different designs for their linings, the feel can be a little different, but it’s important to check a few things when trying on a new helmet. In the same vein, helmet manufacturers have different size charts, so the size you may be in one brand may differ from another. Knowing your actual head measurements will be useful when selecting where to start.
There should not be any pressure points and should sit level on your head. A comfortable, snug fit is good; a red ring around your forehead and a headache from too tight of a helmet is not. Conversely, you don’t want your helmet so loose that it can easily move around and covers your eyebrows – that means the helmet is too big.
The harness does not make the fit! Often, riders think that if they tighten the chin strap on a helmet it can correct a poor helmet fitting. Helmets should fit properly without the fastener attached and are only designed to keep it on in the event of a fall. When adjusting the chinstrap, it should sit under the chin and gently touches the bottom of the ear lobe. Ideally, you should be able to fit two fingers between the strap and under your chin. A good test to check is yawn with your helmet on – you should feel a gentle pressure pulling the top of the helmet down.
Removable, washable liners have become more common and available in many of today’s helmets. They allow ease of cleaning and the ability to adjust helmet fit for riders that alternate wearing their hair up or down or perhaps recently got a major hair cut. Check with a helmet fitting professional any time you make adjustments to your hairstyle, as your fit may change.
Use Your Noggin – Wear a Helmet!
No matter your discipline, experience level, or how bombproof your horse may be – always, ALWAYS wear a helmet. Not only is it the cool thing to do, it’s the easiest way to stay safe in and out of the saddle. Plus, with so many options to pick from, you can find one that coordinates with any riding outfit you choose!
Enjoy the ride,
Colleen, Purchasing Associate